False 9s, raumdeuters, whatever Olivier Giroud is…
Football has forged several new breeds of striker in recent times.
For years, No9s got away with strolling around on the shoulder of the last man as they waited for someone to present them with a goalscoring opportunity.
Then coaches started demanding more.
Many centre-forwards are now required to contribute to the team’s build-up, lead the high press when the opposition have possession, and selflessly assist those around them.
Not Mauro Icardi.
Inter Milan’s captain is a greedy poacher whose sole purpose is score goals — and he does it bloody well.
His injury-time winner in the Milan derby earlier this season was an example of elite anticipation and subtle manipulation.
Just look at his movement…
It’s a wonderful cross from Matias Vecino, that goes without saying.
Icardi’s feint to the front post gives him that half yard he needs to dip in between the two defenders and head past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Such sharpness is rare, and the sign of a natural goalscorer.
The first goal in this montage of Icardi’s La Masia days is almost identical…
That was Icardi’s total contribution to the Milan derby.
When you put it like that, it sounds insignificant.
But when one of those touches is the winner, in the 92nd minute no less, he simply must be heralded as the difference-maker.
Here’s every pass (all nine of them) he attempted over the course of the 95 minutes…
And here’s Icardi’s freezing cold heat map…
The concentration required to convert a chance, after being practically anonymous for an hour and a half, is not a skill to be taken lightly.
Michael Owen often came alive at the opportune moment after appearing subdued for most of the game.
Ruud van Nistelrooy rarely failed to spring upon a clearcut chance, no matter how off the pace he seemed up until the moment presented itself.
Robert Lewandoski has taken up and similar role in recent years, though he will still drop deep to smell the ball if he feels deprived or isolated.
Icardi has the patience of sniper.
He may well be the best poacher in European football.
The Argentinian’s performance against Milan is a familiar one to followers of his career — few touches, minimal involvement, and a goal.
Icardi’s record now stands at 106 goals in 167 league games for Inter.
In contrast, he’s provided just three league assists since the start of last season — and you can be bet he was at least partially disappointed with each one.
The likes of Roberto Firmino, Antoine Griezmann, Dries Mertens and Karim Benzema have shown the benefits of the modern way.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of room for old-school predators like Mauro Icardi.
Long live the poacher.